Words by Olivia Lennox
The second in the online series hosted by Mad about Denmark in collaboration with the Danish Agriculture & Food Council was held on the 30th of March. Andrea Petrini acts once again as moderator and is joined this time by Kamilla Seidler Trebbien and Christian F. Puglisi, as well as repeat panellist René Redzepi.
The opening sentiment from an ever dapper Petrini is that sustainability as a term needs a “beyond”, a consideration as to what it means and how it can evolve. This also comes with addressing the meaning of ‘sustainability’, a polluted terminology at this point given that there are no formal boundaries to uphold a standard within the word.
Kamilla Seidler Trebbien when addressing the quest for sustainability opens with the consideration that “Sustainability means very different things to very different people depending on where you are in the planet. ”This is a chef who has worked previously in a somewhat divergent context as head chef of Gustu in Bolivia, before returning to Copenhagen and opening Lola in 2019. The comparisons she draws are that, even in Denmark which is recognised to be at the forefront of environmental sustainability, there are a lot of social aspects that need to be included if we are to talk about a true sustainability. Trebbien references the programme she now runs through her restaurant called Lola Impact, an initiative to provide employment to those struggling to find work. Her point rings loud with validity, that this should be part of normal practice, not an exception; as industry leaders and as people, social sustainability should be of equal importance.
René Redzepi agrees fully with this sentiment, matching that while Noma has been going for eighteen years, it is only in the last couple that they have been able to achieve something closer to an inclusive sustainability in terms of the social and personal aspects of the business. He reinforces his message from the previous talk of last month, that if food is cheap, someone or something is paying the price. The chef revisits a conversation with Petrini that they had some ten years ago, that when asked about the future of food, his answer was then and continues to be now that food needs to be more expensive – the way we value food is simply too cheap both in practice and attitude. Redzepi claims that if there is a case to be won in fair prices for produce, it needs to appeal through hedonistic means – deliciousness is necessary if sustainability is to convince anyone, and the “to infinity and beyond” power needs to come from the chefs’ culinary talents.
Under the consideration of the sustainable future of fine dining, Redzepi firmly announces his belief that the pandemic is not going to bring around an ecological revolution. He is assured through faith that a change – an improvement – is coming, but not as a response to the pandemic. Some earnest hope come from the chef in the certainty that “once humanity has tried everything else, we’re finally going to do the right thing”.
With a much more stoic attitude, Christian F. Puglisi sees social evolution as a tell that humans continuously make the wrong decisions in terms of environmentalism. He shares that this obsession with technological advancement providing the solution is teeming with useless hope. Addressing the increase in meal delivery services which is made possible through streamlined technological platforms, only emphasises how people need to get into the kitchen and not further detached from it. The chef is a firm advocate for getting close to the source of making as the tool for communication, and this is exactly what he did with the launching of his Farm of Ideas in 2016. The intention in its dawn was to hold responsibility for some expansion of biodiversity, but as noted by the esteemed Puglisi, it’s very hard to translate it into a business:“I can say after 5 years, I looked in, it was really scary,”admitting now through gesture that the weighted door is getting heavier and heavier to keep open, or maybe even to want to. Puglisi found that the solution to finding his own personal sustainability was to close two of his famed Copenhagen restaurants – Relæ and Manfreds – in 2020, a decision he has recently credited as his biggest achievement.
The panel conclusively delve into the idea that a lot of the issues lie in legislation, and that sometimes the hardest thing about sustainable choices is that they can impose financial costs. Many potential solutions are put down out of fear of something going wrong – a problem which doesn’t allow for the poetic potential of human trial and error. This is the difficulty of operating in a world that shows itself being extremely intricate and extremely political. The three agree that what lies beyond sustainability is responsibility, that as industry leaders and business owners they also have to be, and are expected to be, policy makers. Detachment from food and people will not repair a broken system.